Ireland is set to become a world leader in developing technologies that will allow the power within our oceans – wave and tidal – to be harnessed efficiently and sustainably. Moreover, this crucially important energy source will be used to help meet the country’s economic development priorities in ways that will create both wealth and thousands of new jobs. There are extraordinary wave power resources off Ireland’s west coast with tidal options offering similar potential off our north east coast.
These were the core messages communicated by the Irish Marine Renewables Industry Association Executive Chairman Peter Coyle in his presentation to the Energy Ireland conference.
“We are not an industry yet,” he added. “Rather we are a sector that is still very much in its growth and development stage. It might well take a number of years to bring core projects to market. But when this does happen, Ireland will take its place at the forefront of an industry that will have a global footprint. And once this is achieved, the key pay-offs will include tremendous job and wealth creation opportunities.”
All of this will happen, Coyle contends. The energy contained within our wave and tidal resources is “almost immeasurable” and the core question is: “How do we go about harvesting all of this potential in the most effective way possible?”
He added: “Challenges that lie ahead include the development of wave and tidal energy converters that can stick the stresses and strains associated with our maritime environment. The technology developed to harness the energy in our oceans must have the wherewithal to remain operational within this environment for decades.”
Peter Coyle went on to point out that Ireland already enjoys a leading international R&D reputation where the harnessing of maritime energy options is concerned.
“This includes centres of research on both parts of the island,” he commented. “Commercial innovation, where wave and tidal power are concerned, is also to the fore in Ireland. The WestWave project, for example, aims to install and operate wave energy converters capable of generating 5MW of clean electricity off the County Clare coast.
“This will demonstrate Ireland’s ability to construct, deploy and operate wave energy converters. It will also pave the way for commercial projects, in terms of consenting procedures, such as foreshore licensing, permitting, electrical grid access and local infrastructure. Significantly, the required grid connection has just been secured for WestWave.”
Peter Coyle foresees the growing recognition by the EU of the potential for wind and tidal power sources as a crucially important foundation on which the industry in Ireland can grow.
He told conference delegates that a clear policy framework is now emerging at both a European and national level. These developments will help ensure that Irish businesses will be in a position to capture the maximum possible amount of the ocean energy supply chain for the island of Ireland.
“A clear target has now been set to harness 100GW of ocean energy by 2050 in European waters,” he confirmed. “Wind, which started in 1980, has approximately 117GW installed, onshore and at sea, today. The target for those involved in maritime energy capture is to broadly match wind’s progress.”
The European Commission has “formally embraced” ocean energy and it is now critical to get a strategic energy technology (or SET) plan agreed for the sector.
Reports from three working groups, dealing with the issues of technology, finance and consenting legislation, will pave the way for an EU ministerial meeting in Paris on 1 October which “hopefully will adopt the Ocean Energy Europe project as a SET plan and thus open up EU funding opportunities.” He stated: “It is crucially important for Ocean Energy Europe to secure Horizon 2020 funding.”
Peter Coyle then set out a timeline for the ocean energy sector to meet the 100GW target now officially adopted by the EU. This will include the drive towards further innovation by 2020, the push towards economies of scale by 2025, and the full market roll-out of the new technologies by 2030. As part of this process, he envisages the development of close links between Ireland and Scotland.
Turning to the maritime energy policy drivers within Ireland, Peter Coyle said that the launch of its Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) will also play a major role in allowing the island to develop its offshore renewable energy resources in a sustainable manner. A key mechanism for the implementation of the new plan will be the coordination of Irish Government action to support the offshore renewable energy sector. A budget of €26 million has been agreed for the period 2013-2016 to further develop test facilities and €19 million for research and development of marine renewable energy. A REFIT tariff of €260/MWh has also been allocated for the first 30MW of electricity produced using ocean energy technology. This will be competed for by ocean energy interests in a public competition and focused on pre-commercial trials and experiments.
“But this is only part of the story,” he added. “Consenting legislation will be required to make all of this happen. At a very fundamental level, there is also a requirement to make planning procedures more compliant. Obviously, all future ocean energy projects must be developed in line with all of the highest environmental and conservation related standards. And I am in no doubt that we can achieve this.
“The key drivers for the sector have been identified. We need to see greater levels of innovation. Linked to this, we also need to ensure that we have the right people with the right qualifications working within the industry.”
He firmly believed that the creation of a new masters degree course in marine renewable energy at University College Cork “will help this cause immeasurably.”
Coyle remarked: “Getting the right grid connections in place for the industry is also crucially important. We need the Irish Government to fully support the targets laid down within the OREDP.
Co-operation through the British-Irish Council will further help to cement relationships with the UK. This reflects on the potential to exchange ideas with research teams in Scotland.”
Fundamentally, Peter Coyle believes that the ocean energy sector will continue to grow on this island, citing the first phase of Northern Ireland’s offshore renewable energy leasing round as a case in point. This includes multiple tidal projects up to 200MW off Rathlin Island and Torr Head in County Antrim.
“There has been a tremendous renaissance in the research undertaken with regard to the enormous energy potential of our oceans,” Peter Coyle explained. “All of this is extremely positive. In many ways, the ocean represents a new industrial sector for Ireland. It has one with the potential for exponential growth over the coming years.”
A plan is now in place to ensure that Ireland becomes a global leader within this sector. “We have made a good start but we must build on all of this for the future,” he added. “The growing recognition by both Belfast and Dublin – of the potential that exists to harvest the energy potential of our coastline – is extremely encouraging but our politicians must take every opportunity to convert all of these good words into action. This is all about leadership.”